For a band having frequently found itself on the negative end of publicity, Swedish black metallers WATAIN still maintain a level of credibility and not just amongst their own sect of outsiders. This is a band that started with their infamous "Go Fuck Your Jewish 'God'" demo that will reportedly never see the light of day again. Later accused of anti-Semitism when they mocked the National Socialist Black Metal movement by wearing t-shirts of the well-known NSBM group, ABSURD (and tossing off a Hitler salute for kicks), WATAIN has still managed to shirk would-be crucifiers who've turned their wrath upon subgenre figurehead and purported hate monger, Varg Vikernes.
The fact of the matter is Erik Danielsson and WATAIN couldn't care less about any of that. As theistic Satanists, they're the real deal. Endpoint there. Ideology aside, WATAIN has proven to be a force in underground metal music. The succession of 2003's "Casus Luciferi", 2007's "Sworn to the Dark", and 2010's "Lawless Darkness" are considered by many as top of the heap works of dark art.
Now on their fifth album and their first to breach into a broader metal market via global powerhouses Century Media, WATAIN continues to blend their scorching chamber cadence with melodic cogitations including, surprise of surprises, a PINK FLOYD-esque, clean-sung anti-ballad.
"The Wild Hunt" will do nothing to keep the DISSECTION and BATHORY comparisons off WATAIN's backs, but Erik Danielsson, Hakan Jonsson and Pelle Forsberg have never felt obliged to elude those associations. Over the years, WATAIN has managed to drain some classic power metal grooves into their work, which has kept their music honest and honestly metal. "The Wild Hunt" may grind and gore in the early portion with "De Profundis", "Black Flames March" and "All That May Bleed", but the tone of the album takes a decided artistic verve in the middle section with the banged-out, organ splashed "The Child Must Die" and a spectacular, slow-met rock elegy, "They Rode On".
As the first time Erik Danielsson employs clean vocals on "They Rode On", the strategy may or may not come as a shock to black metal loyalists, but the break from all of the shrill dirges and death hisses is a win here, not a loss. There's a dirty choke to Danielsson's straightforward vocals on "They Rode On", but he still paints a pretty picture in contrast to the largely ugly airs of the album. While there's a hallucinogenic feel ala PINK FLOYD to "They Rode On", Pelle Forsberg complies with the song's intent by weaving a gorgeous solo that's up to the moment. Even his prolonged, searing solo on the progressive-felt "The Child Must Die" is fabulous.
Worry not, purists, because "The Wild Hunt" gets mucky in a hurry with the mincing "Sleepless Evil", where Hakan Jonsson delivers a riveting sequence of choppy snare strikes on the verses while switching between blast and thrash modes elsewhere. The abrupt, extensive interlude in-between the speedy segments of "Sleepless Evil" is malevolent and sincerely frightening, take heed.
WATAIN throws another curve with the crawling and morose title track, again blending in some PINK FLOYD translucence amidst cryptic group chanting and ugly bass tones. As with "They Rode On", Erik Danielsson slides back into clean mode and this time, he makes "The Wild Hunt" sound gloomy and tormented.
"Outlaw" is one of the fastest tracks of the album, even with tradeoff mid-tempo break-ins, while the clunky tempo of the mostly instrumental "Ignem Veni Mittere" is overshadowed by Pelle Forsberg's masterful assumption of hypnotic soloing, eloquent picking and later, brutish chugging. All mixed by shadowing sweeps that give way to shoegazing echo fugues in the final bars. As decorative as he is throughout "The Wild Hunt", here is Forsberg's stronghold of finesse.
Leaving these guys to their personal devices, "The Wild Hunt" is another triumph for WATAIN, proving they have what it takes to smash into the reaches of the mainstream without compromising one iota of themselves. "The Wild Hunt" exhilarates in spots and terrifies in others, and similar to VREID, they represent not just pure black metal, but pure metal in general, with diligence and maturity that hardly reflects the shock tactics of their infancy years.